Today’s article focuses on the concept of “gamification” with the aim to analyse the potential role of such a concept in institutional communication. Generally, “gamification” means using the elements and rules of a game in a business context, with the purpose to reach a specific objective. The concept became very popular at an international level in 2010 and is currently applied in different industries such as learning & development, sales or social media.
Slowly, the concept of “gamification” is starting to become known within the public administration. Governments are starting to regard it as an innovative way to develop the relation between a public institution and its citizens. The true value of using games as part of the communication mix is the ability to insert a final social benefit, be it influencing or changing a social behavior, development of certain abilities or improving the activity of the institution which creates the respective game.
This article is aimed to offer several examples of easy to use and efficient games created by institutions around the world but also to analyze the advantages, challenges and risks of the decision to promote public services via games.
National governments may have many qualities and can be the starting point of important projects for the community. Besides the many strengths, one is definitely not amongst them – they are not cool, creative or interesting for the wider public and especially for the young public. Quite frequently, public institutions may initiate awareness campaigns focused on certain issues with the purpose of influencing social behavior, but these campaigns remain far from attracting the attention of the younger audience.
How does gamification work? It creates an environment where citizens play games to win prizes or compete against one another, while learning about a new message or behaving in a certain, desirable manner. The approach has been trilled so far on a diverse palette of public sector campaigns including military recruitment, physical fitness, speeding prevention, consumer rights awareness and even making citizens engage with census data.
The Department of Justice of the state of Victoria, Australia wanted to make young people aware of the country’s consumer protection laws. As extended discussions about legal concepts were, of course, not very interesting, they chose to go a different route – so they created a game called Party for Your Rights. The game is especially designed for young people and it teaches them about their rights through the activity of going to a party. The graphic and music are appealing for the specifics of the audience so the game, which was launched in June 2014, was played 23,000 times so far. The creators also did a survey which indicated that 96% of players said they felt either more informed of their rights as a result of interacting with the game.
Building a game is not easy, especially if the final purpose is to change behaviors. Kam Star, founder of PlayGen, a gamification studio which creates different behaviour change campaigns in partnership with different public sector agencies, says that “creating games that will change behaviour take a great deal of forethought. In making games that can seriously move players’ perceptions around a topic, or get them to feel or think differently, the aim should be to create intrinsically motivating experiences with high utility. These are very specific types of games which are not only fun to play, but teach the player something interesting about themselves or about the world without lecturing, but by stoking their curiosity and facilitating playfulness.”
Star advised that officials shouldn’t just be hiring developers who build games, but ensuring that they also have the necessary expertise in human behavior and psychology.
An interesting example of a successful game meant to change behaviors comes from Sweden. In Stockholm, citizens who obeyed the speed limit were automatically entered into a lottery financed by those drivers who broke the speeding rules. The game encouraged not only preventive driving but also contributed to a 22% decrease of speeds on the city’s main roads. Although the main motivation of the drivers was the cash prize, part of the success of the game is due to the fact that people simply like playing.
Another example of a game used by a government to enhance the interaction with its citizens comes from the US. The latter “gamified” an entire naval operation in which civilians and naval officers alike fight Somali pirates. Entitled MMOWGLI (Massive Multiplayer Online WarGame Leveraging the Internet), the program was created to test the feasibility of such games in areas of strategic interest. The players need to prove that they master coordination and negotiation skills as they will be forced to create safe travel routes, negotiate with the pirates for the release of hostages, analyze and anticipate the probability of attacks and mitigate financial or time challenges regarding shipment of commercial goods around the Horn of Africa or the Gulf of Aden. The advantage of the game is that the Navy can use some of the unconventional ideas identified in the game in their own strategies to fight against pirating off the Somali Coast.
Eric Hackathorn, Data Visualization and Games program manager at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (USA) thinks that games are starting to be accepted as educational methods. In the past 10 years, he has worked on a number of projects, including creating a virtual world modeled after Rock Creek Park outside of Washington, D.C. The Department of Energy uses the virtual park to hold public meetings and to give people an opportunity to explore and learn about energy efficient buildings.
Eric is now planning to develop a game called ReGenesis, which involves time travel, violent storms and environmental disasters. The game is set in the year 2100, and players must time travel back to the year 2017 to prevent or eliminate the environmental damage caused by Hurricane Rita. Players try out different strategies and then go forward in time to see how it all plays out. The game is designed to teach about climate, satellite control and environmental damage mitigation strategies.
An example of how to develop a game is the public-private partnership. Such a partnership led to the creating of a game called Money Smart. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (US) together with a private company developed a games dedicated to low and medium income families, aimed to teach them how to manage their finances better. The game resembles board games such as Life or Monopoly and its players are challenged to develop their abilities to manage their money more efficiently but also to learn how to open up a bank account, how to pay the bills on time or how to avoid identity theft. The objective of the game was to attract 10,000 people but ended up by having 40,000 players in the first 6 months since launch.
Here are some other examples of games developed at the request of public institutions, with the aim to support the citizens by offering useful information but also create change behavior campaigns:
Zero Hour America’s Medic is a game which aims to train first responders in case of major events such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks. The game’s environment is in 3D virtual.
UNESCO Bangkok, the regional office for Asia-Pacific, launched a mobile application dedicated to educating players on disaster safety and survival. Each level teaches an important lesson related to flood preparedness. Players must overcome challenges by choosing the safest course of action, with pop-up boxes alerting them to common hazards and other information related to floods.
The Department of Defense leveraged gamification for training and education. Procurement Fraud Indicators Game teaches employees how to spot fraud. In this particular game, each player collects information about a fraud being investigated, and then moves to an interrogation room to question a suspect. Finally, the player chooses from three theories regarding the fraud, and is rewarded if correct.
Games are a creative and innovative way to bring citizens closer to institutions and share important messages in an appealing way. As we have seen, people are generally attracted to playing games which could help them in their day to day life (financial education, transport, lifestyle) or for professional development. Public-private partnerships can prove to be a good idea to develop such games, especially considering the limited public budgets. Games have also been launched in Romania to offer specific support or change behaviors (such as financial education) but they have been created by private entities. The recent initiatives of the Education Ministry to create educational games and digital coursebooks may prove to be a good solution for turning school into a friendlier, more interesting environment. We are looking forward to seeing how the project will develop in the near future. Relevant information about the project can be found in this interview with Radu Jugureany, the director of the AeL eContent department within SIVECO Romania.